In A Better You

Assertiveness: Vital for a Healthy Lifestyle

What Does it Mean to be Assertive?

Assertiveness is a skill that serves as a form of communication. For some, being assertive comes naturally; little training or practice are required. For others, it requires some practice and re-training to overcome old habits, but the end result is worth the effort. Being assertive means you “stand your ground” to represent yourself honestly in any given situation. According to the Mayo Clinic, to be assertive, you must respect your beliefs and rights while respecting the beliefs and rights of those around you. In being assertive, you take responsibility for expressing your opinions, feelings, thoughts and beliefs in a way that does not disrespect others.

In being assertive, it is important to stay clear of two forms of communication that look like assertiveness, but that are not:

  • Aggressiveness– this form of communication may look very assertive but it is counter-productive and destructive. In being aggressive a person can violate the beliefs and rights of others, driving them away or creating a hostile environment. Aggressive behavior can lead to others feeling bullied, physically threatened, intimidated or humiliated by you. These lead to strained relationships between you and those around you.
  • Passive– this form of communication rejects the beliefs and rights of the individual being passive. If you are passive in a situation, you are acting as if your beliefs and rights are not as important as those of others. This will send the wrong message to those around you and leave you with unfulfilled needs. Passive behavior can lead to unhealthy feelings of resentment, stress, seething anger, victimization and desires for revenge.

Bullies in School

Those that are considered bullies are often people that display the aggressive form of communication. For those that can not be assertive in the face of aggression, passive behavior is the only available option. According to the Centre for Clinical Intervention, in “Assert Yourself!, Module One, passive behavior can lead to stress, tension, anxiety and resentment. It can also result in low self-esteem, leading to poor decisions, such as the types of people a passive person allows into his or her life. These poor decisions can also be apparent in the ways a passive person will help fulfill the desires and needs of others, ignoring his or her own in the process.

Helping your passive child become assertive will demonstrate to your child that he or she is as worthy and important as the bullies he or she encounters. The assertiveness you teach will also serve to help your child deal with these encounters in a positive way.

People Walk Over Me

As an adult, you are expected to take care of your responsibilities and duties, both to your family and to yourself. However, it is possible to also be made to feel responsible for the needs and responsibilities of others. If you feel like people walk all over you, this may be a sign of passive behavior on your part.

If you were never taught to be assertive, you can find yourself taking on more responsibility than you should; saying yes when you should be saying no to the demands others place on your time and resources. Since an over-load of responsibility can lead to heavy work loads, incomplete work and forgotten tasks, among other things, you can end up lacking in certain areas, feeling unfulfilled and at a loss to know what to do in certain situations. You may find that you feel you have failed your family, friends or co-workers. This can lead to feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness.

The good news is that being assertive can be very easy to learn and to utilize in every day life. Being assertive does not require that you change yourself as a person; it only requires that you are honest about the person you are. It is a skill that will serve to benefit you in your every day life, and it will benefit your children as they learn this skill from watching you. Without assertiveness, you and your children can find yourselves in situations where you feel forced to comply.

As an assertive individual, you are better able to communicate your position on a subject or in a situation where a decision is required on your part. Being assertive is not “being mean”. It is an easy, non-confrontational way to stick up for yourself while respecting others. This makes it a very effective tool in dealing with peer pressure and bullies, two of the largest threats in social or school environments for children.

How to be Assertive

If you have ever felt that people walk over you, it is time to add assertiveness to your list of life skills. This is especially important if your child has ever come home and voiced the same complaint. If you find that you react passively, your child may learn the behavior, as well. When you act assertively, your child will be better prepared for the challenges that school or social bullies present. You can start on the road to assertive behavior by examining the roadblocks that have previously stood between you and your goals.

If you do not currently feel you are assertive, or if you don’t currently see assertive behavior in your child, it may pay to examine your personal belief system or the belief system your child is operating under. Wrong beliefs can be a hindrance in living a non-confrontational and assertive life. Once these wrong beliefs are examined, the right beliefs can be implemented and utilized in everyday life.

The Centre for Clinical Intervention (“Be Assertive, Module One and Module Three) states several unrealistic, negative or wrong belief systems that can hinder assertive behavior. These bad beliefs can have a negative impact on the way you or your child see the world and people that you meet or interact with every day. Such negative beliefs can include, but are not limited to:

  • “If I assert myself, I will upset the other person and ruin our relationship.”
  • “If I accept compliments from someone, it will mean I am big headed”
  • “I have no right to change my mind; neither has anyone else.”
  • “It is uncaring, rude and selfish to say what you want.”
  • “If someone says “no” to my request, it is because they don’t like or love me”
  • “I shouldn’t say how I’m really feeling or thinking because I don’t want to burden others with my problems.”
  • “It will all work out in the end, and anyway it’s not my fault.”
  • “I shouldn’t have to say what I need or how I feel: people close to me should already know.”
  • “If I express that I am feeling anxious people will think I am weak and ridicule me or take advantage of me.”
  • “People should keep their feelings to themselves.”

If you find that any of these statements are familiar, to yourself and/or your child, you can stop non-assertive behavior now for a more fulfilling life. Read over this list of Assertive Rights to more clearly define the rights you and your child have as individuals.

You Have the Right to:

  • judge your behavior, emotions and thoughts
  • accept responsibility for and the consequences of your behavior, emotions and thoughts
  • say no
  • change your mind
  • be illogical when making decisions
  • say I don’t know
  • say I don’t understand
  • disagree with someone else
  • provide no excuses or reasons for justifying your behavior
  • judge the actions of others if you are responsible for providing solutions for their problems
  • make mistakes and to take responsibility for them

These rights can help provide the guideline you need to help change old habits in thinking and behaving for yourself and your child. When you know your rights it is easier to behave in an assertive manner.

Perhaps the problem is not so much a negative self-image but a lack of the necessary verbal skills. Perhaps you or your child are just unaware of how to communicate the assertiveness you feel. In “Be Assertive! Module Four”, the Centre for Clinical Intervention states the different types of verbal and non-verbal skills that are necessary for assertive behavior:

  • Basic Assertion: make a statement that expresses clearly a want, need, opinion, feeling or belief. When you make an assertive statement, you reduce your stress or anxiety, allowing you to control yourself and accept responsibility for your feelings.
  • Empathetic Assertion: recognize how another person feels or sees things. This is used to indicate to the other person that you are sensitive to the position they are in and that you are aware of their needs.
  • Consequence Assertion: this type of assertion provides consequences and should only be used when absolutely necessary. It is important to remember to stay calm and maintain eye contact to act assertively, not aggressively. If the other party feels threatened, it could seem that you are trying to bully him or her. This type of assertion is most often used with people that are acting aggressively, ignoring the rights of others. It is only intended to change their behavior.
  • Discrepancy Assertion: used to point out the difference in a previous agreement and what actually took place. It is helpful when there seems to be a contradiction between someone’s behavior and their words, or when there may just be a misunderstanding in what was meant when a verbal agreement was reached.
  • Negative Feelings Assertion: when the behaviors of another person has had a negative affect on you or your child, such as leaving you feeling hurt, angry or resentful, you can use this to overcome the problem. First, describe the behavior that has upset you without judging the person or interpreting. Secondly, explain to the person how that behavior has affected you. Describe these feelings. Lastly, let the other person know how you want the behavior to change.
  • Broken Record Assertion: this technique uses a repeat of the same phrase so that the one persisting in asking for something you can’t give gets the point. If it is hard to say no, practice the phrase while remaining calm. This technique can be used for people that ask for money or something you are not comfortable in giving. It avoids arguing and confrontation while getting your point across.

Start the Process

When dealing with a bully at school or at work, it is important to remember that it is the behavior that needs to be changed, both on the part of the aggressive person and on the part of the passive one. With these rights, techniques and information, it will be easier to start the road to assertive behavior.

Although you are now equipped with the right information and techniques, you can’t make all the changes you need to make overnight. You or your child may need support in implementing these strategies. If time or access prohibits you from speaking with a professional, a useful tool has been found to be a simple diary.

Called “thought diaries on unassertive thoughts”, these simple tools can help put everything in perspective. Once everything is written down, it is easier to make sense of and easier to take the next step. The best part about this for your child is that you can help him or her with writing in it, providing him or her with needed support and showing your child that he or she is loved.

In a thought diary, you will need to name the situation that is giving you trouble. Be specific, naming the incident without judging the behaviors or attitudes of the others involved. Next, name the emotion that the situation elicited. Ask yourself ‘What did I do?’ and ‘What did I feel in my body?’. This will help clarify your behavior and your physical state at the time the situation occurred.

When you have answered those two questions, move on to the next two to help name your thoughts while that situation was going on. ‘What was I thinking?’ and ‘What was running through my head?’ The honest answers to these questions can help clear up confusion and alleviate stress, providing a physical benefit as well as a mental one.

Once you have done this, your next step is to rate your beliefs based on their strength. On a scale of zero to 100, you must rate how much you believed in the thoughts and feelings you were having at the time of the situation. When your beliefs are revealed, you can move on to examining them. Are they passive, aggressive or assertive? Is there evidence against the thoughts you were having at the time of the situation? What is that evidence? Are you being negligent towards yourself or to others in respecting rights? Is there another way to look at the situation? Could there be other reasons why the situation happened the way it did?

With time and commitment, your thought diary or the thought diary of your child, can help reveal the wrong patterns of thinking that are working against assertive behavior in day to day interactions. With a little practice, assertive behavior becomes easy and natural. This leads to improved work conditions on the job and a safer environment for your child at school.


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